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Business / Local construction industry awaits details on government support

SHETLAND’s busy construction industry also has come to a near standstill after the UK Government introduced tough new movement restrictions as part of efforts to curb the spread of coronavirus.

Following prime minister Boris Johnson’s address on Monday night, most building firms stood down their work forces and have advised staff to stay home until further notice.

The King Harald Street development is one of the sites where DITT had to stood down its workforce. Photo: DITT

Director of Lerwick building firm DITT Peter Tait said the company had little choice but to cease work for the time being as safe distances between workers and general health and safety rules could not be maintained.

Bobby Elphinstone of Tingwall based E&H Contractors said they had been responding likewise while awaiting further clarification and guidance from the government as to how to pay the company’s workforce of around 30.

Elphinstone said while a commitment of paying 80 per cent of wages was very welcome; there was little details as yet as to how this would be administered.

There is also a big question mark over how long individual companies would be able to continue to stay afloat without income should the current movement restrictions continue for much longer than the initial three weeks.

Tait said the online portal to claim back 80 per cent of wages and salaries wasn’t open yet.

“We wait and see what happens when to does open, I imagine, initially it will be overwhelmed by the amount of traffic – and there is no indication how quickly funds may come through.

“We are in process of putting our staff on ‘furlough’ because we don’t know how soon or quickly anything will change and they will be able to come back to work.

“You have to put them on furlough before you are able to claim money back under this government scheme.”

They are stood down but they have not been made redundant, Tait confirmed.

“Certainly for the moment we have the reserves to carry on and paying wages but, like most businesses, there is only so long that any business can carry on doing that,” Tait said.

Meanwhile, Sullom Voe Terminal operator EnQuest confirmed that non-essential work on the site has been postponed.

A terminal spokeswoman said: “We are reviewing the work activity on-site daily and are postponing non-essential work, where necessary.

“Our actions are in line with industry protocols to ensure hygiene levels can be maintained and that safety critical operations are protected.

Shetland Gas Plant operator Total added: “Specific measures have been implemented to reduce manning on site to minimum level for safe operations.

“All non-essential work is being postponed and travel arrangements for rotational staff and contractors are scrutinised to ensure minimum exposure to infected areas.”

The oil business continues despite Covid-19: the 61,000 tons, 250m long tanker Pink Starts berthing at Sullom Voe on Wednesday morning. Photo> John Bateson

 

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